An era has ended at the once-incandescent IT company. But thinker-innovator Vishal Sikka, more a technology than a services man, may just provide the shake-up Infosys needs as it seeks to climb to its former position.
IT WAS the inevitable waiting to happen at a company which had finally run out of co-founders to rotate through its top office. But nobody foretold the rapidity with which the episode unfolded last week in Bangalore. On June 12 morning, the country’s once-incandescent IT services company, Infosys, announced that it had designated an outside professional as its CEO, though its current CEO was scheduled to retire only in 2015. Infosys also disclosed that two other founders would quit their executive positions before the week ended — its Executive Chairman N R Narayana Murthy, an icon hailed for putting India’s technology services industry on the world map, and its Vice-Chairman Kris Gopalakrishnan.
Television channels broadcasting the press conference panned on the faces of those present at the media conference, including Murthy himself and board members K V Kamath of ICICI Bank and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw of Biocon. A full 33 years after it was launched in 1981 and grew to be one of India’s best-regarded companies, the founder-driven, $8.24 billion-in-revenues Infosys would have a rank industry outsider in the hot seat. Also, for the first time in its history, none of the co-founders would hold any executive positions. It was a clean, gutsy severing from its past that got even its rivals all emotional. “The founders’ decision to step down marks the end of an era,” said T K Kurien, CEO of industry rival Wipro.
It was epoch-ending indeed. With just Rs 10,000 as capital and with sheer doggedness, the diminutive Murthy and his geeky fellow founders had created a company that, for three decades, represented every middle-class job aspirant’s dream employer and many a wannabe entrepreneur’s vision of success. Infosys not only changed the way Indian companies were governed but its founders transformed the way other rich fellow-entrepreneurs would engage with the world around them (see sidebar). It demonstrated that Indian companies could become global, respectable brands too. “Nobody can hope to create another Infosys any time soon,” said V Balakrishnan (‘Bala’), its former CFO, who quit in December 2013 after 22 years at the software firm.
Driving a new chapter at Infosys will be CEO-designate Vishal Sikka. India-born American, the 47-year-old recently quit German software giant SAP